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Fremont’s Film Ordinance Balances Attractiveness to Film Makers, Protections for City

March 6, 2000


When a film production company chooses a city as a filming location, it is sometimes a mixed blessing. While it can mean that a lot of money will be spent in that city during the shooting of the film, it can also mean that a lot of demands will be placed on the city, and will have to be managed, while the shooting is underway.

During the 1990s, the City of Fremont hosted the filming and production of nearly 20 films, documentaries, commercials and music videos; last summer alone, three film projects were underway in the City. These filming efforts differed greatly in nature and scope, often involved applications for numerous City permits, and often required a variety of City services. A two-week Walt Disney Productions project, for example, required about 30 hours of Economic Development staff time and about the same amount of Maintenance and Recreation staff time. Fire Department personnel devoted several hours to inspections of a large commercial tent used for Disney’s catering operation, Engineering staff spent hours on an encroachment permit, and Police and Fire personnel worked extensively with Disney staff prior to the start of the filming.

The estimated 80 hours devoted to this short term Disney project went well beyond those normally required to service the City permits involved – and these were hours not compensated by the production company.

While Fremont officials want to encourage film companies to use the City and assist them in their filming, they also want to ensure that the filming does not create hazards to public safety or to public or private property, and that the City is compensated for costs it incurs in support of the filming. Mayor Gus Morrison believes that all of this now can be accomplished through a film permit ordinance adopted in November.

Modeled after an ordinance drafted by the California State Film Commission to encourage film industry activity within the State, the Fremont ordinance establishes a film office within the Office of Economic Development to coordinate all commercial filming that takes place in the City. It also defines the parameters of a film permit, details some of the conditions for approval that may be attached to a permit application, and establishes time frames for the approval or denial of a permit by the film office. The ordinance establishes fees for the use of City property, other than parkland, for filming, and requires the documented permission of private property owners before any filming can take place on their property.

No fee is charged for the film permit itself. Fremont officials believe that in the highly competitive environment of the film industry, a permit fee could discourage companies – small companies, in particular – from using the City.

While the ordinance allows some flexibility to accommodate extraordinary circumstances, permit applications generally must be filed at least 10 business days prior to the start of filming activities. If pyrotechnics or stunts are involved, applications must be filed 15 days in advance. The film office has five business days to approve or deny an application – unless the proposed filming activity requires extensive review by other City departments because of fire or traffic safety concerns – and denials must be based on conditions which are listed in the ordinance. A permit may be denied if, for example, the filming activity will substantially disrupt the use of a street at a time when the street is usually subject to traffic congestion, or will interfere with the operation of emergency vehicles in the proposed permit area. Also, a permit can be denied if the filming activity will substantially interfere with the safety of the public or employees while on City property, or will create a substantial risk of injury to persons or damage to property.

To obtain a filming permit, a company may have to agree to have certain City employees present during filming, to pay for traffic and crowd control monitors, to give advance notice to property and business owners who would be affected by the filming activity, and to clean up and restore public streets and City property used in the filming. Restrictions may be placed on the use of City employees, vehicles and equipment, on the use of firearms, explosions and other noise-creating or hazardous devices which disturb the peace, on the use of stunts involving pyrotechnics, open flame, vehicle crashes or hazardous materials, on the hours of the day the filming may be conducted, and on the use of City logos, insignias or badges for filming purposes.

Fees for the use of City property other than parkland are at the discretion of the film office and may not exceed $1,000 per 24-hour day. The permit applicant must pay all costs of City employees who must be present during the permitting process and filming activity. The applicant also must procure and maintain insurance as prescribed by the City’s risk manager.

Because of the very short time frames which are customary in the film industry, routing film permit applications to all of the City departments which would have a role in the approval of that permit and other required permits – including Fire Department permits for the use of pyrotechnics, encroachment permits from Engineering for the use of a street, permits from Maintenance and Recreation for the use of a park – is not workable. Fremont’s approach is to convene a meeting of each permit applicant and representatives of all affected City departments. The application process for any required permits begins in this meeting, and the representatives of the permitting departments make every effort to expedite the permits needed by the applicant.

“Fremont was the birthplace of California’s film industry in the early 1900’s, home to Charlie Chaplin and Bronco Billy Anderson,” Mayor Morrison explains. “We are excited to facilitate its return with the passage of our new film ordinance.”

Fremont’s new Film Officer is Angela Tsui. Information on the ordinance and film office operations is available from her at (510) 494-4858 or at atsui@ci.fremont.ca.us

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